It looks like these Sixers won't need to make as many compromises


NEW YORK — Quite reasonably, Doc Rivers didn’t think last season’s Sixers could have it both ways. 

Before his team’s first of four preseason games on Monday night in Brooklyn, the Sixers' head coach did not dismiss that this year, it might be possible. 

“Listen, we want to offensive rebound and get back, obviously, and we’ll see how that goes,” Rivers said. “The first couple of days (of training camp) we did a great job of offensive rebounding and then our defensive coaches said, ‘Well, we’re doing a terrible job of defensive rebounding.’ … It’ll be interesting. The guys that we have designated to be crashers, we’ll see what they do, see how they handle getting back, and see how our defense looks.”

Though predictably imperfect on a night when Joel Embiid, James Harden, Danuel House Jr. and P.J. Tucker sat, the Sixers succeeded Monday at playing an in-your-face, best-of-all-worlds style.

In their 127-108 win over the Nets at Barclays Center, the Sixers grabbed 14 more offensive rebounds (22-8) and committed 11 fewer turnovers (27-16) than Brooklyn. 

The 2021-22 Sixers were 30th in offensive rebounding rate, per Cleaning the Glass, and they were hesitant about asking players like Matisse Thybulle to chase offensive boards because of their frequent fragility in transition defense. 

“I thought we rebounded (tonight), especially on the offensive glass,” Rivers said. “We were crashing the glass and getting back. We had two (plays) that we’ll show them that were just bad gambles. I think one of our guys — I know who it is, but I’m not going to call his name — he ran from the top of the key. That’s just not smart, and we’ll teach them that. But overall, the designated crashers did their job.”

While 27 turnovers is rare for an NBA game and no preseason performance deserves intense scrutiny, the Sixers didn’t merely profit from young, naive Nets tossing the ball into their hands. Marquee Nets names Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons all played 19 first-half minutes. And the Sixers’ trio of replacement starters — De’Anthony Melton, Thybulle and Paul Reed — all displayed characteristic ball-hawking skill in tallying three steals apiece. 

Even when the Sixers are at full strength, chasing hard won’t work on every play. 

Ten seconds after entering the game, Montrezl Harrell pursued a Shake Milton miss and was whistled for a foul. Less than 12 minutes of playing time later, Harrell had six. 

“We thought he was going to foul out in the first half at his rate,” Rivers said. “I told our guys to be aggressive, you can’t worry about fouls, and Trez obviously pays attention before the game.”

Still, the Sixers now have fewer players worried about tapping the brake. When Embiid is hovering in the paint and Harden’s eyes are darting ahead for hit-ahead passes, that sounds especially fun and (relatively) sustainable. 

Though Maxey is always inclined to care about responsible decisions and proper deference, the most potent part of the third-year guard’s game is speed with the ball in his hands. The combined age of the Maxey-Melton duo is 45 — just eight years older than Tucker. They’ll be happy to run. 

“I think us two out there on the court is going to be very high-paced,” Melton said. “Especially for me, being able to create turnovers — and him out there, too. He’s definitely taken more of a role on the defensive end. … Getting out there and moving the ball, shooting threes. Us two on the court, a lot’s going to happen this year.”

Rivers knows well that risks sometimes backfire.

But as the Sixers aim to cement a team identity, he seems to recognize that caution might not be so essential this season. 

“Every coaching staff is different,” he said. “I’ve been more on the defensive glass, getting back. But you’ve got to coach what you have on your team, and we have certain guys that I’ve coached strongly this summer that can get on the offensive glass. 

“So we’ve given the freedom. There’s been about eight of them. We told them, ‘Someone’s going to lose their privilege,’ and so we’re going to play that game with the team. We already know who the one is for the next game, but he’ll be able to earn it back.”

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